When Anwyn heard her best friend cursing over a letter from home, she thought it would be nice to give her a hand. A quick trip to a new country to protect Iola from an unwelcome marriage would be a chance to have fun while doing a good deed.
But the trip revealed plots against the Dana that Anwyn could never have anticipated. The simple trip became a complicated political trial that threatened not just the family’s fortunes but Anwyn’s safety as well. Stopping the Delbhana’s plot might be the hardest thing Anwyn had ever done but failure wasn’t an option.
Storm over Archaelaos is an epic coming of age fantasy set on the matriarchal world of Muirin. People of all ages will enjoy this thrilling adventure.
Storm Over Archaelaos
By Meyari McFarland
Anwyn smiled as the gang plank went down. Azar’s rocky peaks loomed above them, distant but still impressive. There was no snow on the peaks of the mountains as there would be back home but the sheer sight of such large mountains made her feel good. The heat and humidity had everyone in their lightest clothes other than Captain Helene who seemed to view it as a necessity to always be dressed in her Captain’s coat when they came into port.
“I hope its cooler when we get to the shopping district,” Aravel complained.
“You know that’s not going to happen,” Anwyn said, side-eyeing him. “It’ll be much hotter in there.”
He sighed and glared at Anwyn. “You could let me dream about it.”
“Look at the mountains,” Anwyn snorted. “They’re almost like home.”
“No, they’re not,” Aravel huffed. “They’re completely different.”
His cheeks were flushed from the heat and sweat had soaked his light shirt from collarbone to the waistband of his lightest kilt. The sweat was bad enough that his bangs were limp on his forehead, droplets of water occasionally dripping off the tip of individual locks. All Anwyn got from him was the sheer physical misery of being too hot and too sweaty with no hope of relief for hours.
“They remind me of home,” Anwyn said, staring up at them. “Tall and rocky, trees only partway up. It’s nice.”
“You’re too cheerful,” Aravel grumbled as he poked Anwyn in the shoulder. “That’s my job.”
“You’re being grumpy right now so it’s my turn to be cheerful,” Anwyn said.
She laughed as Aravel’s glare turned as acid as any of Cadfael’s. Rather than deal with Aravel’s grumpiness, Anwyn darted away. She dodged through the sailors already unloading their cargo for this port. There wasn’t much, just two crates of carefully packaged fruit from Minotapa and a stack of paperwork that Aunt Colleen had to deliver to the harbor mistress.
Most of the women grinned at Anwyn as she darted by. They were sweating as badly as Anwyn and Aravel but everyone’s mood was high. Captain Helene had announced liberty for the entire ship as they approached Azar that morning. Two women were to remain on duty on the ship but the crew had already arranged for shifts so that everyone got a chance to get off the ship.
“What did you tell him?” Aunt Colleen asked when Anwyn ended up by her side. “He’s glaring death at you.”
“He’s grumpy because he’s hot and sweaty and he has no yarn,” Anwyn said with a deliberately casual shrug. “You know that Ravi’s always grumpy when he can’t knit.”
Aunt Colleen shook her head as she pushed Anwyn back towards his side. “I don’t care how grumpy he is. I want you to stick to his side, Annie. I’ve got an errand for Iola so it’s just the two of you.”
Her eyes flickered as if she wanted to look at Berrach but she didn’t do it. Berrach was blatantly listening in on their conversation while helping coil rope and reef the sails properly so Anwyn groaned and rolled her eyes. At any other time Anwyn would be dismayed by having to keep Aravel company when he was grouchy so it was the proper response.
“Oh, Aunt Colleen,” Anwyn complained. “Why does everyone else get liberty and I don’t?”
“Because he’s your brother and I expect you to keep him safe, girl,” Aunt Colleen snapped. “Now get back over there and try not to aggravate him. I doubt he’ll find much yarn but you never know.”
“If there’s yarn in the market Ravi will find it,” Anwyn sighed.
Azar’s market tended more towards fruits and vegetables than yarn and fabric. The women from the highlands wore elaborately embroidered vests and loose, baggy pants, always topped with a heavy belt covered with coins. Anwyn cooed over the swords and knives. Aravel perked up when he spotted one man with a beautifully beaded cap and veil that covered his entire body selling jewelry.
The jewelry seller had set up in the shade of big tree, giving him one of the few cooler spots in the whole market. Anwyn wasn’t at all surprised that Aravel squatted down to examine and discuss every single piece that showed any signs of workmanship. None of them were appropriate to wear at home but that didn’t stop Aravel from choosing a simple necklace made of turquoise and silver beads with a pendant made of red coral, turquoise and what she thought was amber. The pendant had a symbol that was very similar to the Dana symbol.
“I have no idea what you’ll wear it for,” Anwyn said once Aravel had bargained the seller down to a price that made them both wince and groan and then shake hands with barely hidden grins at each other.
“I don’t know,” Aravel said as he tucked the necklace into his bag. “But it’s pretty and I haven’t seen any yarn yet.”
“Yarn?” the seller asked. “You want yarn?”
“Yes!” Aravel exclaimed, so delighted that the other man jerked back. “I’m all out and I’m so bored without anything to knit.”
The seller laughed and nodded towards one of the cross streets that led into the market. “My cousin’s brother’s wife sells yarn. Wool gathered from the goats that live in the high mountains. It is very soft and very warm. Hard to dye but they have multicolored fur so it’s not completely boring.”
“At this point I’d take pure white and be grateful,” Aravel declared. “How do we find it?”
It wasn’t an easy shop to find. Azar’s cities tended to be very organic with streets winding this way and that over the hilly ground. Anwyn could almost see the old goat trails that were the original basis of the roads as they walked. There were no street signs or maps available, either. Anwyn knew to keep the mountains to their right and the ocean to their left but other than that she wasn’t at all sure which way they were going after a few turns.
Aravel seemed to know exactly where they were going. He had listened to the directions far more closely than Anwyn had. The shop turned out to be half an hour’s walk from the market, down long winding streets that gradually narrowed until there wasn’t enough room for them to walk side by side. The buildings changed from wide windows that faced into the sea to catch the best breezes into tall narrow structures that looked to be completely open on the upper floors.
“Are you sure we should be here?” Anwyn asked as they stood aside to let an old man with three tiny children clinging to his veil. “I’m not sure we’re welcome.”
“They have yarn, Annie,” Aravel said in Azarin with so much yearning that the old man’s eyes lit up with amusement. “I’m not leaving without some yarn.”
“Fine,” Anwyn groaned in the same language, “but you better remember how to get us back home.”
“Of course!” Aravel said so breezily that the old man chuckled as he led the children away. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine.”
“I hate it when you say that, Ravi,” Anwyn whined.
The old man’s laughter carried up the narrow street long after he was out of sight. Anwyn sighed, grateful that he had gone onwards instead of calling someone to chase them out. No matter what Aravel said they truly shouldn’t be in this part of town. Every door and narrow window they passed had people peering suspiciously at them. Aravel didn’t seem to notice. The only reason Anwyn was aware of it was the strange new sense the Ladies had given her.
“There it is!” Aravel exclaimed with delight, bouncing on his toes before running towards the little shop.
It was a truly tiny shop. The building it nestled in was barely wider that Anwyn was tall. If she had lain down on the floor she would have been able to put her feet against one wall and her palms flat against the other. Despite that, the shop was filled from floor to ceiling with racks of beautiful yarn.
Aravel cooed as he checked out the yarn, all of which was in dusky shades of cream, tan, brown and black. The shop keeper stared at him as if she’d never see anything like Aravel. When she turned to look at Anwyn, Anwyn just shrugged.
“He ran out of yarn to knit,” Anwyn explained in Azarin. “It was a horror.”
“It was a horror!” Aravel exclaimed as he started pulling down skeins of yarn. “I don’t know how anyone is supposed to survive without yarn to knit.”
The shop keeper swallowed a laugh, almost choking in her effort not to laugh out loud. Anwyn rolled her eyes. She stayed by the door where there was the faintest hints of a breeze to cool her off. There wasn’t much air flow but it was better by the door than it was inside the tiny shop.
Aravel’s fascination with the yarn was deep enough that Anwyn tuned his muttering and excited questions out. The shop keeper seemed happy enough to answer whatever Aravel wanted to know. At this point in the trip there really wasn’t much point to reminding Aravel to save his money. The last Anwyn heard Aunt Colleen intended to stop in Minoo at one port before sailing straight back to Nasrin. There weren’t going to be that many more places for Aravel to spend his money.
As Aravel did detailed comparison of skeins of yarn with passionate explanations of which goats they came from and why this yarn was better quality than that yarn from the shop keeper, Anwyn stepped outside. She made sure that the door stayed open so that she’d be able to intervene if the shop keeper decided to put her hands on Aravel. It didn’t look likely to happen. From the way they were interacting Anwyn was pretty sure that Aravel and the shop keeper were already deep into bargaining over the yarn.
Half an hour later, Aravel had chosen the yarn he wanted and the bargaining began in earnest. Anwyn sat on the doorstep, idly fanning herself with a bamboo platter the shop keeper had passed over when Anwyn complained that it was too hot for bargaining. If she was lucky, very, very lucky, they might be done sometime in the next hour. Both of them seemed to be enjoying the bargaining entirely too much, especially when it was over a pile of yarn half as big as Anwyn.
Berrach walked by the end of the block. A woman in a Delbhana uniform walked by her side.
Anwyn stiffened. “Aravel, pay her.”
“What?” both Aravel and the shop keeper asked, horrified.
“I just saw Berrach with a Delbhana officer,” Anwyn said. “Pay her. We need to follow them before they get away.”
“Problem?” the shop keeper asked.
“She’s a spy and a traitor to the ship who molests little girls,” Anwyn explained. “She tried to molest me and did molest our cabin girl.”
The shop keeper’s head went up as if Anwyn had just punched her in the jaw. She glared, nostrils flaring with the sort of fury that Anwyn reserved for killing Siobhan someday. She nodded and took Aravel’s money, wrapping his chosen skeins of yarn up in a beautifully embroidered cloth that Caddie was going to coo over once they got home. Outside the air felt heavier, hotter, as if a storm was moving in even though no clouds hung over their heads.
“Do you need help?” the shop keeper asked as she followed them out into the street.
“Yes!” Aravel exclaimed. He flapped a hand at Anwyn when she opened her mouth to protest. “She’s really tall and a very good fighter. And if she’s teamed up with the Delbhana and showed up here, then they’ve got to be looking for us. Anwyn’s the Delbhana’s target, you know. She insulted them several times and their leaders want her destroyed. They have to have other women hunting for us. Everyone knows how much I love knitting. If you’re one of the only shops with yarn then they would have known that I’d end up here eventually.”
“You need an escort back to your ship then,” the shop keeper said.
She ignored Anwyn’s frustrated growl as she went upstairs to get her family, friends or something. The last thing Anwyn wanted to do was go back to the ship. What they needed to do was follow Berrach and her contact, figure out who they were working for. Going back home without figuring this out wasn’t going to do any good at all. Aravel raised an eyebrow as Anwyn’s hand curled into fists.
“This is not a time for fighting. It is a time for discretion,” Aravel said in a mixture of Chinwenduese and Ntombian that even native speakers would have a hard time following given the dockside Aingealese accent he used.
“She’ll get away, Ravi. The whole point of everything we’ve done on this trip is to stop her,” Anwyn protested in her own mixture of Chinwenduese, Ntombian and Aingealese.
“Trust in allies is always warranted,” Aravel said. “This is not a battle that we fight alone, Annie.”
He beamed as the shop keeper returned with six of the biggest, fiercest up-country Azar women Anwyn had ever seen. Anwyn had no idea how they could bear to wear their heavily padded and quilted jackets in this heat but she supposed that the jackets would serve as effective light-weight armor.
Their swords were almost as long tip to hilt as Anwyn was tall. Wielding them in the tight streets would be almost impossible except for the fact that the back third of the blade was dull, allowing the wielder to grip it and use the sword like a spear. The shop keeper nodded to Anwyn and then passed Aravel another skein of yarn that he’d considered only to ultimately reject when it came time to bargain.
“Thank you!” Aravel squealed as he tucked it into his bundle. “That’s so nice of you.”
The shop keeper snorted, smiling at him. “You give us a chance to fight. It’s well worth the yarn.”
“Still rather follow her,” Anwyn grumbled.
The warriors surrounded them, three walking in front in single file and three behind. There didn’t look to be any chance for Anwyn to escape so that she could find Berrach and deal with this personally. Anwyn sighed. As much as she hated it, Aravel was probably right. Aunt Colleen would have spies following Berrach. Honestly, Iola was probably following her. Of all of them Iola had the best chance of blending in with the natives of Azar given her darker skin and hair. Everyone else on board stuck out in a crowd because of their pale skin and hair.
It would have been nice to deal with the problem personally, Anwyn thought as they set off through the winding streets towards the port. But the shop keeper and her friends (family?) and Aravel would make sure that didn’t happen.
“Be careful, Io,” Anwyn thought. “Don’t let the Delbhana get the better of you.”
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